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Situated some 40kms west of Cotonou, Ouidah is a fascinating place on many levels. Most of them will leave an indelible mark.
Ouidah was one of the principal points of departure along the West African ‘slave coast’ and the ghosts of their suffering are tangible. There are a smattering of monuments throughout the town dedicated to the memory of the countless souls that suffered from the most evil of trades, accumulating in a stark arch on the shoreline which marks the ‘point of no return’, the place where chained men were forced into boats in unimaginably inhumane conditions. The Museum of Ouidah contains old photographs, paintings and artefacts related to the era. It is located in Fort of São João Baptista de Ajudá, an early 18th century fort that was built by the Portuguese in order to protect their interests in the area, principally trade routes and the shipping of slaves to Brazil.Read more
Ouidah also has the unusual status of being the world’s capital of Voudon or voodoo. A international Voudon Festival is celebrated every year in January, when believers and priests from across Africa and the rest of the world descend upon Ouidah for drumming, rituals and worship of the deities, ancestors and elements that make up voodoo’s ancient belief system. It’s one of Africa’s most colourful, noisiest and fascinating festivals. But even at other times, Ouidah is drenched in voodoo – fetishes of various size, purpose and antiquity are a common sight.
Down on the beach, an unspoilt stretch of shore characterised by clusters of coconut palms and generally strong waves (like most of West Africa’s beaches, you need to be an experienced swimmer) fishermen go about their business in handmade pirogues. This is Ouidah’s other, gentler side, and after the onslaughts of its local culture, you will need it.